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Handball stars face massive test
Imagine Albion going into the Premier League and facing Manchester City, Manchester United, then Chelsea.
Now you have some idea what Sussex handball stars Mark Hawkins and Seb Prieto are up against in the GB Olympic team.
Especially in the opening game of their group against France at the Copper Box on Sunday night.
The French are the football equivalent of Spain – and it doesn’t get much easier for Hawkins and Prieto after that.
Team GB have also been unfortunate to be drawn in the same group as Sweden and Iceland as well as Argentina and Tunisia, two of the emerging nations in the sport.
Whatever happens though, the Serbian guiding them through their David versus Goliath journey is certain Hawkins and Prieto will end the London Olympics with their reputations enhanced.
Men’s head coach Dragan Djukic is confident they both have even brighter futures in the game ahead of them. He has also revealed left winger Hawkins and right winger Prieto are in line to start against the French.
Djukic told The Argus: “I am proud of them. Maybe they don’t know but they are first choices, planning to start this amazing, historical game against France.
“I remember Mark from when he was a basketball guy on a handball court and my instruction to him was to get better defensively if he wanted court time.
“Mark is passionate and always gives 100% on court. The most important thing for every member of the team was to be selected.
“Mark played in Iceland and before that in Denmark. They have sacrificed a lot.
“Seb has passed through the countries – Germany, Hungary, Denmark, France this year – everywhere.
“I am more than sure that after the Olympic Games some of the people from Europe will recognise that they can play in any European team.
“I completely believe in them and this is the best and biggest marketing opportunity on earth. I am sure some people will recognise how good they are.”
The clash against France will be particularly poignant for Monaco-born Prieto. His father is French and he is just as familiar with La Marseillaise as God Save The Queen.
“They are the Olympic and world champions and one of the best teams in handball history,” Djukic warned. “They are physically strong and the most experienced team here, much older than we are. We are one of the youngest teams ever in any big event.
“It’s a really hard test for everyone. Our main goal is to play against non-European nations and then in the opening game you have to play against the best team on the planet.
“It’s hard to manage, to play with full power against France when you know you have no chance and play a few days later against Argentina where we have some chance.
“I am trying to prepare the players to enjoy the France game, because this is what we have worked towards all these years. “They should be happy to be here and just play, without thinking about anything else.”
The Olympic handball tournament is split into two groups of six, with four from each qualifying for the quarter-finals. Djukic, who is quitting to join the Israeli national team after London 20120, admits it would be a real turn-up for GB to make it through to the later stages.
“Realistically you would win a lot of money if you backed us to reach the quarter-finals,” he said. “It’s close to an impossible mission but our target is to play all five matches at a competitive level.
“That is the first and most important target because we have never played in our previous 50 games against teams of this level.
“If we have any chance to cause a surprise it’s in the games against non-European teams but unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, this is in my opinion the best handball event ever.
“We have continental champions here in Argentina, Korea and Tunisia and we have to play against two of them. Tunisia are strong and tall and could cause a real surprise.
“Argentina had an amazing world championships a year ago and won the Pan-American championships a month ago. They are also young but we have a chance against them if we compete as a team and with the support of the Copper Box behind us.
“Matches between GB and Argentina are also special and we believe we can definitely put up a fight against them.”